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Laurie Ball-Gisch

JW: Lavender may be one of the most popular plants in the world, and it's been used for centuries for all sorts of things. It symbolizes devotion and serenity, and the scent of lavender—ahhh! And I think I'm catching some of it now here at Lavender Fleece in Midland. I'm with owner Laurie Ball-Gish. Thanks for having me here today, Laurie.

LB-G: Oh, you're welcome.

Laurie Ball-Gisch

JW: Laurie, if folks would like to include lavender in their garden or their landscape, there are some important things to consider for success. Can you clue us in to some of those things? How about if we start with the location?

LB-G: OK, the lavender grows best when it has full sun and you want to have a fairly sandy soil for it. It has a real shallow root system, so it needs to be able to spread its roots out into that shallowness of that sand. So that would be the first thing I would do is not have shady clay soil.

JW: When you say full sun, like how many hours a day?

LB-G: At least most of the day honestly, if you want good flowering. The plant may survive, but if you want a full flower crop, it really needs full sun.

JW: Lavender is considered a perennial like a small shrub, correct?

LB-G: Yes.

JW: So sandy soil. If we don't have a sandy soil in our yard or garden, could we make it that way?

LB-G: Yes, with some work-- you could dig out the soil and you could get some children's play, sand or contract with someone to drop off a load of sand, which is a lot of shoveling, but it’s worth it. That's what we did here when we started.

JW: And when is the best time to plant lavender?

LB-G: You want to plant it before it gets real hot, because the first year of the plant it would need to be watered. But watering is a little tricky. If you over water, it can kill the roots, and if they're young plants, they need to stay moist. Depending on the size of the plants that you get-- really small plants would have to be watered weekly if they're planted later than May when the sun starts to get more hot, so you have to maybe watch that first year of the lavender growing with some watering. Depending on the heat and the sun during that first summer.

Laurie Ball-Gisch
The Lavender Fleece

JW: Tell me about watering lavender.

LB-G: Lavender is not good if you have an underground water sprinkling system because it can get too much water. If lavender is watered daily, the roots can rot and that is the biggest killer of lavender. So you want them in a sunny area with good drainage and I would not suggest they are in an area where you have your automatic sprinkler's going.

JW: What about fertilizing lavender?

LB-G: Do not use the traditional garden fertilizers that you would do for your perennial flowers. It can be too acidic and it can be detrimental to the plants. I would suggest amending your soil with lime when you plant the plant-- you could put like a teaspoon of garden lime in with the plant and that's really the best way.

JW: Laurie, can you suggest some varieties of lavender? I know there are so many, but can you suggest a few that would grow in our area in central and northern Michigan?

LB-G: I have lavender plants that I planted 25 years ago that are still my best ones. The variety is called Folgate lavender. That is my favorite one. Royal Velvet and Royal Purple have beautiful, deep, dark colors. They're a little harder to source in Michigan, but they're well worth it for their longevity. There are some white lavenders-- Melissa is a beautiful white lavender, and it's a hardy lavender. It's nice to plant different colors of the lavender, so there's all everything from a lilac color to light blues to dark blues, to dark purples, and every shade of lavender in between.

JW: Do you like to plant lavender in groups-- like in large masses?

LB-G: Yes, yes, I do. A gardening trick is that you do it in odd numbers. So if you're going to do a grouping of three plants or five plants. If you've got walls or you've got a slope, put your bigger lavenders in the back and your smaller ones can be in front and offset from each other.

JW: So in other words, you just don't want one lavender plant sort of randomly out there in your yard.

LB-G: I would always do like three. Yeah. Now some of the lavenders can get anywhere from 24 to 36 inches across, and whatever the width at full maturity is, it's going to be the height of the plant, and so when you buy the lavender you want to look at what is its maximum size for how you space it as well.

JW: Laurie, would you talk a little bit about harvesting lavender--- when to do that and how to do that?

Laurie Ball-Gisch
The Lavender Fleece

LB-G: OK, so you want to harvest it when the flowers are at their prime color and when it's ready to be picked. You've got to you look at the stem, and at the very base of the flowers, there'll be little florets that start to open those little florets as they start to open at the bottom and you've got. A maximum color. Then you want to harvest. Lavender. Otherwise, if you let all those little florets open, they're just going to fall off when the plant, when you dry the bundle.

JW: Will, you get a second bloom after that.

LB-G: There are some varieties that are known to 2nd bloom, some of it's very much dependent on the weather during the season as well. Whether or not you get a second bloom,

JW: Laurie, we know that lavender has that just amazing, beautiful scent, but we can cook with lavender too can't we?

LB-G: Yes, absolutely. The favorite recipe that everybody knows me for is a lemon lavender cake! So you want to make sure that you're using an English lavender and it's called angustifolia. Those are the ones that are edible.

JW: I love cooking with lavender, but in my experience just a little bit goes a long way. Too much tastes kind of soapy.

LB-G: Yes, it I would akin it to too much rosemary--they're in the same family. So you don't ever say, “Oh, let's add more rosemary!” Less is definitely more.

JW: Laurie, what do you love about lavender?

LB-G: The smell—absolutely the smell. When I go out and I start to prune or I'm weeding around the lavender-- it's just so relaxing. And it really is-- it's a phenomenal smell.

JW: Aromatherapy every day at Lavender Fleece.

LB-G: Amen--that's right!

JW: Laurie Ball-Gish is the owner of Lavender Fleece in Midland. Thanks for joining me for “From the Ground Up!”

LB-G: It's been my pleasure. Thank you so much!


Judy Wagley is WCMU’s midday host, and is the producer of The Children’s Bookshelf from From the Ground Up! She guides listeners through their weekdays from 9am to 3pm.